As we all know from what we learned in school, a “republic”
is not the same as a “democracy.” A republic, to be sure, employs
the “democratic process,” but since the Athenian city-state, it has
not been practical for a large political entity (such as a nation) to
be governed by what essentially would be public meetings in
which all citizens vote on every public action or policy.
So our forebears invented the human institution of a republic in
which all citizens (ideally) are eligible to choose persons to act on
their behalf on matters of the public interest. Early republican
experiments in Greece, Rome, and later in renaissance Italy did
not endure, and were replaced by various kingdoms and
Then in the mid-1770s, there occurred an event in a far-away
colony of one of the major powers of Europe, the island kingdom
of England. That event, in reaction to the colonial power’s attempt
to restrict its colonial subjects, was a true modern revolution, and
its leaders, searching for a new political formulation, came up with
a partly flawed but resilient solution --- the United States of America.
The flaws included the prolonging of the institution of slavery, and
the limitation of electoral suffrage mostly to white male landowners.
Over the next 100 years, the issue of slavery was resolved in a
traumatic civil war, and the issue of suffrage was gradually repaired
to include women, and finally to all citizens 18 years or older.
The nature of the human species on this planet has been to multiply
its numbers. In ancient times, the world’s human population was a
few million. By medieval times, before the occurrence of epidemics
of bubonic plague, that number had multiplied to many millions.
Recovering to pre-industrial times, it approached a billion, and in
growth predicted by Malthusian calculations, it grew exponentially
to the present day number of more than 7 billion.
The creation of the modern republic did not have rigid forms. In the
U.S., it was the creation of a three-part government. In most other
“democratic” nations, it took the form of a parliament. Some of
them had prime ministers, some had presidents, and some still kept
constitutional monarchs. But the common thread was representative
Republican governments, especially as their societies grew in
population, had to create new institutions so that the elected
representatives could practically manage the increasing role of
Especially after the 19th century industrial revolution, the primary
institution for governing became the “public bureaucracy” ---
unelected individuals whose responsibility is to carry out the
work of the public interest. Because human beings are not
automatons, the behavior of these bureaucrats was often not
transparent, fair or without corruption. From its beginnings, the
bureaucratic class came into conflict with the public at large. The
public tool of correction remained the elective process because the
bureaucracy existed at the service of the elected representatives
who, in turn, could be replaced by the vote of all the citizens.
The reader might find the above to be obvious and self-evident, but
I have reviewed its history for a very timely reason.
The U.S. is currently engaged in its quadrennial presidential and
biennial congressional elections. What is distinctive about this
year’s elections is that the presidential election has no incumbent,
and that the congressional elections are mostly pre-determined by
localized demographics. Even so, such a circumstance has often
occurred before, including the less common extreme polarization
of the two major political parties.
Much more rare, however, is the very distinctive mood of the
electorate in 2016 which includes an accumulated frustration
not only with the bureaucratic institutions which manage the
day-to-day affairs of public life in America, but also with elected
representatives themselves who, at the federal level at last, seem
mired in stalemate and inaction.
This voter frustration has also coalesced around unlikely
presidential candidates in both parties, candidates opposed by
both party establishments. No one I know predicted, even only a
few months ago, that Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or
John Kasich would be four of the five finalists in the 2016 cycle.
Only Hillary Clinton was forecast as her party’s probable
nominee, and while she continues to lead Mr. Sanders in the
number of committed delegates, her campaign has been fading in
The political personalities of Mr. Sanders, Mr. Trump and Mr.
Cruz have each provoked not only enthusiasm among some voters,
but strong antipathy among others. Mrs. Clinton also has very
high negatives (which is especially noteworthy since she is the
frontrunner). Particularly among mainstream voters who support
none of these candidates, and among partisans for each of them,
there has arisen a bitter rhetoric attacking not only the individual
candidates, but also the voters who support them.
My purpose in writing this is to suggest that, while it is natural
and proper to make criticisms of those who are running for
president, it is not valid or appropriate to put down those voters
who support them. This is especially true for mainstream voters,
many of who contend that Sanders or Trump supporters are
“ignorant,” “ill-informed,” or not well-intentioned. Instead of
castigating or demeaning mutinous grass roots voters in both
parties, these mainstream voters would be better served to get
off their political fannies and go to work for the candidates they
do support, presumably Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Kasich.
It takes a lot to provoke a whole electorate as it has been
provoked this year. Ours is a republic which is ultimately run by
its citizens who are the voters. This is neither a liberal nor a
conservative principle, nor is it the property of only Democrats
or only Republicans.
It is an American principle. Founding father Benjamin Franklin,
at the conclusion of the constitution convention in 1787, was
reported asked, “Dr. Franklin do we have a republic or a
monarchy?” Franklin’s celebrated reply was “A republic, if you
can keep it.”
Beneath all the rhetoric of 2016 so far, and in these perilous
days, that is the fundamental issue to be decided one more time.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.